Under 50, Don’t Write That Book

No one under 50 should be allowed to write a book.” I have said this in several contexts, half joking.  But now I need to modify this some.

In reading Luke 9-11, it occurs to me that Jesus sent out the 12 to do some missionary work at one point. He had obviously spent some time with these apostles, equipping them before sending them out. Then a little while later, he sends out 72 to do some missionary work. In both cases, these followers of Christ saw God do unique and miraculous things through their obedience to Christ and the words they spoke.

It would seem to me the 72 whom he sent would not have been as well equipped as the 12. That being the case, God worked through them just as he did the 12. It wasn’t their time with him or their equipping that provided the power, but Jesus’ presence and word in them. This is a significant point. Obviously, this doesn’t exclude the importance of maturity and a person’s walk with Christ. But it is the presence and word of Christ that changes things. Ironically, Jesus tells the 72 that they should not be so excited about what God did through them (i.e. the miracles), but rather that they were now a part of God’s Kingdom.

So I guess this moderates my position that no one under 50 should write a book. Great books have been written by those under 50. However, it is an example of what we see above; Christ’s presence and words can do significant things in a person’s life if they submit to him. Surely those under 50 can submit wholly to Christ.

I think the principle behind my statement about young people writing books is that external “success” metrics do NOT necessarily qualify someone to write a book. As we see above with the 72 that were sent out; the fruit was a result of God’s work and they should only take pride in being part of God’s Kingdom. In contrast to this, it is these kinds of external metrics of success that often causes younger leaders to write books. I don’t think the size of a church or the number of followers are necessarily qualifiers for writing a book. It seems in our culture that fame, fortune, or a following qualify you to write a book. I don’t see this in Jesus’ teachings. Surely, he saw fruit in his less mature disciples, but the fruit was transformed lives. He focused on the quality of transformation and their being a part of his team, not on the quantity of information.

This is what John Izzo found in his research for the book, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. He started with over 5,000 names to do research on understanding what were the secrets of significant impact people. Through some vetting, they reduced the size down to 400 individuals, then began an extensive interview process with each person. However, early in the interviewing of these individuals, they noticed a marked difference between the answers shared by those under 60 years old and those over 60 years old. They noticed those under 6o were still trying to state things in a way to justify their significance, while those over 60 were much more at peace with where they were and free to share their foibles and failures. In the end, only two individuals under 60 were included (57 & 58 years old).

The point is well taken, age-appropriate maturity produces sage-appropriate wisdom. However, in our culture, we don’t necessarily want to know wisdom; we want to know what works. So we intentionally seek those who have produced something that works, and we try to learn how they did it. 

In other words, people want to know just what works and how to do it for themselves. They don’t desire wisdom that requires them to think deeply about how it could/would impact their life and ministry. They just want the three or four keys to open the doors of successful ministry, not the tools to build their own impactful ministry given their own gifts. As Gordon MacDonald said a long time ago, he didn’t like speaking on Christian campuses because they only wanted to know “how.” Rather, he loved speaking on secular campuses (often state schools) where students asked the question “why.”

I think this is one reason individuals become lifelong learners; they continue to ask the question, WHY?

This is the question that really bothered my mom; I always asked why. In fact, at one point, she told me I couldn’t ask any more “why” questions. Where does that come from? I am not sure what causes individuals to continue to ask why; however, at times, it did get me in trouble. I would pursue activities or lines of reasoning to find out the why. At the University of Michigan, my undergrad education surely reinforced this thinking. We were challenged not to take a professor’s word for something but to pursue the truth. We were encouraged to ask the profs, “why?”.

So go ahead and write your book at whatever age you may feel so inclined. However, ask if your motivation for doing so is because of what you are learning about being a child of God, or because of the things you have seen accomplished through you? It would seem that Jesus cautions all of us to not take too much credit for what happens around us. This may be a fine line of distinction, and it has been the years of living through different seasons which has taught me the difference.

My God is Too Small

God is infinite, we are finite. Dwell on the fact that God can create something simply by speaking it into existence. We, on the other hand, are limited and must work with the elements to bring things into existence.

I must admit I tend to bring God down to my size. I become comfortable making God fit my view of things. Rather than seeing him as something so great, magnificent, creative, wise, powerful, loving, caring, concerned, consistent, content, beautiful, compassionate, kind, constant, perceptive, courageous, abiding, strong, and whatever adjective I can’t think of; I tend to think of you within my limited perspective.

In other words, I have trouble with thinking of God’s infinite nature with my finite mind. I think this is the reason looking at the mountains or oceans or sunsets tends to reset my perspective of our Lord. As I view God through his creation, I am reminded of his infinite perspective. Because these views of nature are more beautiful and awesome than I could imagine, I tend to understand more of his infinite nature.

I think this is why often, when people are only surrounded by what man has created: buildings, homes, streets, highways, parking lots, lights, etc., we tend to diminish our view of God. We see him as simply another creation of humans. Yet, farmers often have a very high view of God.  I find this correlation very interesting. I would like to study whether people raised in the country or with regular exposure to nature have a more robust perspective of God than those who spend most of their waking time surrounded by human endeavors.

Taking the Long View

I left home to go to college when I was barely 18 and remember calling home and telling my mother that my clothes were shrinking. My mother would tell me to not wash my clothes in hot water, but it didn’t seem to help. I didn’t come home until Thanksgiving break that first year of college, and I can distinctly remember entering through the front door of my parent’s home. My whole family was there waiting for me, and as soon as I walked through the door, everyone started laughing hysterically. My mom told me she figured out why my clothes were tight; I was fat. Sure enough, I immediately weighed myself, and I had gained 25 pounds in about 2 ½ months! 

And the interesting aspect of this was that while I was gaining weight a day at a time, I had NO CLUE. For me, the pounds daily crept on as I feasted on the chocolate soft serve ice cream before and after every meal. The weight was a result of suddenly becoming inactive (reading & studying) while eating anything and everything I wanted. It took me the remainder of my time in undergrad to get rid of the extra pounds.  Since then, I have had to monitor my weight. 

Those who know me may be surprised that I continue to monitor my weight because I don’t look overweight.  This is because I continually watch my eating and my exercise!

This small part of my life has taught me so much about all aspects of life. I have learned that anytime I want to change anything in life, it usually takes a lot of effort expended over a long period of time. I can go on a starvation diet and quickly shed pounds, but these pounds really won’t be the right kind I want to lose, nor will they stay off very long if I don’t change my long-term lifestyle. 

So many things in life are like this. To change something takes time, attention, effort, and consistency for real transformation to take place. It seems like this is true no matter what the venue: physical, emotional, mental, social, and, yes, spiritual.

We don’t develop physical muscles overnight. Only with time and effort through consistently pushing them beyond where they are comfortable will I develop muscles. Most adults learn that we don’t instantly change an emotion that is rooted in childhood trauma or chronic stress. We don’t learn and retain calculus or physics by cramming the whole course in one night. Friendships are built through time, attention, and effort. Sure, sometimes we simply “click” with people; but a deep abiding friendship that lasts a long time takes effort through experiences to develop. And the reason gray hair is celebrated throughout scripture is because the depth of character and an intimate walk with Christ comes through years of abiding, not through an instant prayer.

Again, in each of these areas, there may be ways to reduce the time or effort through hacks, like learning a language. However, for a skill or character to become embedded deeply in your life, it must be diligently participated in over time with attention to being consistent. This always involves stretching beyond our comfort zone. In every case, there is a point of weariness or pain or exasperation when we want to give up. But only in enduring through the pain and beyond our comfort zone do we begin to develop a certain skill, character, behavior, or pattern of feeling which becomes a part of who we are. It only becomes part of “ME” as I go through the pain of making it so.

I think this is because, most often, we must give up something to incorporate something new. It is in the giving up where the pain enters. This is true whether we are adding new muscle fibers in our bodies, neurons/synapses in our brains, feelings to our responses, or faith in our souls. It always comes at a cost or the death of something, which is why there is a sense of discomfort or pain.

Let me suggest therefore there is a big difference between 50 years of experience and one year 50 times. One year of experience repeated fifty times rarely involves discomfort, death, or change. A person simply repeats what they know, feel, do, or think every time. However, to really gain experience implies that over a long period (50 years?), a person continues to pay attention, make deep change, let some things go or die, adjust, and then continue this process as their age or situation necessitates. They are in constant growth mode.

I sometimes wonder how old I will be when I will no longer monitor my weight. I used to think it would be when I hit 65. I am not sure how I arrived at that figure; I guess I thought by then I would be ready to check out and go home. I am now 68, and I am still working on keeping my weight in check. I think that implies I am still learning and growing.

I just talked with an 81-year-old friend who is still learning and growing. He shared that he is really trying to appreciate the “new style” of worship at his church because he knows it is reaching younger people. What a great long-term view of the Kingdom. I have watched his life for over 30 years, and he has always been a learner. That is who I want to be in my eighties.

Lessons from Journaling

After reading my Thursday Thought last week on journaling, a friend asked if I would unpack how I practice the habit of journaling: what I have learned and how I have been consistent for forty years. 

Let me first state that journaling is a habit of supreme importance in my life. Journaling impacts not only my spiritual life but also my mental, emotional, and creative life. Of all my spiritual habits, without exception, journaling has produced more fruit than any other practice. And I would say the same for all the other areas as well. I think this is because journaling incorporates so many different aspects of my life, as I will explain in a moment. 

Having said how important journaling has been for me, let me quickly add that journaling is not for everyone. I have known many people who have been great thinkers who never journaled. I am not sure why journaling has been so important in my life, but not necessarily for others. I am sure it is in the way I process and grow. 

Let me further say that one must be careful not to turn journaling into some mechanistic record of events. I would call that a diary. A journal is so much more than just recording events that happened the previous day.

Journaling can’t be done legalistically either. There have been times when I have gone for weeks, maybe even a month, with little to write or think deeply about. As I have written elsewhere, I don’t feel guilty; I feel hungry. Usually, if I don’t journal for a week, I do feel like my life is missing something. I feel as if I am running from one event to another with little center giving direction to my life. 

This is because journaling keeps me living at a deeper level. Journaling gives me a deeper perspective on everything else in my life if it is done right. I find as I journal that I live more intentionally.

So what does journaling look like for me?  Journaling usually involves five elements: Scripture study, mental processing, emotional processing, confession, and prayer. I don’t necessarily sequence through them in any order, but most of them find a way into what I regularly record.  When I started four decades ago, I intentionally tried to ensure each element was a separate part of my journal.  But that became too rigid for me, and now each of these elements morphs into the others, as you will see.

Scripture study is usually a part of what I am processing. For decades I would read through the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation at my own pace. It might take me two or three years to make it through the entire Bible, but that was fine because I wasn’t on a race, no one was grading me, and it didn’t make any difference how much I read in one setting. I usually read it through a different translation each time. I might spend weeks wrestling through a thorny passage. Or, if MK and I were reading a book that referenced a passage, I might spend some time reading the surrounding context for a few days. Sometimes, I would simply disagree with a passage and write how it didn’t make sense to me. I would struggle with passages and then wonder why I struggled with a certain passage. This often led me to think about my mental or emotional schemas or barriers that kept me from growing or understanding. 

Mental processing is an important element that frequently finds expression in my journaling.  I may write things that I wonder about. Like this week, it was “Why the sand at Anna Maria Island does not get hot in the sun, while the sand at Melbourne beach does?”  As stupid as this sounds, anything that bothers me, I write down. If there are perplexing problems in my personal life, relationships, ministry, or whatever, I write them down and try to think deeply about them from different angles. Often, I don’t solve them immediately, but a solution comes when I am not even thinking about it. Which often is in the middle of the night.  

Frequently, I write down the dreams which I had the previous night. Certain dreams may have bothered me for one reason or another. I literally taught myself to fly (in my dreams!) through this process. You laugh, but it works very well. 

By the way, the sand on Anna Maria Island has a much higher quartz content in it than the sand in Melbourne, which causes it not to retain heat from the sun like other sand!

Speaking of things that bother me, Emotional processing plays a dominant role in my journaling. I write down what I felt the day before or what I noticed others feeling. I try to understand why I felt the way I did or why others felt as they did.  I don’t just try to justify my own feelings, but without judgment, I try to find the origin or cause of my feelings. 

For example, when MK and I get into a disagreement or misunderstanding, instead of reacting to her, I journal about it. Sometimes through my journaling, I resolve the issue and let it go. Other times I can formulate what I want to say to MK without all the baggage which was originally attached to it because of my journaling through it. Still, at other times, I realize I have been a selfish little boy and need to apologize. My emotional processing in journaling has strengthened all my relationships with my family, friends, associates, and even enemies.

This is where Confession comes into my journaling. I confess everything here, even though it may take a while for me to confess it to the offended party. Most often, I first come to confess in my journal to my Lord, then outwardly to others. As I have authentically gone through these processes, God shows me where I am wrong and what I need to do about it.

Prayer is woven through all the preceding elements. When I am confused, I ask God for guidance. Or when I need insight or just time to talk with God, I do so as I journal.  Sometimes, I may write my prayers in my journal. Sometimes I just pause and talk to Him. This kind of prayer is like an ongoing conversation I have with God. I am thinking, feeling, and confessing with him, so prayer in this context is truly an ongoing conversation with my creator, who is the creator of the universe.

Lastly, here are a few nuts and bolts of journaling. For 30 years, I journaled in expensive logbooks, which I still have. On the first line, I would write the date and then a few things I was monitoring, like weight or exercise. Then launched right in. For the last decade, I have been journaling using software (Day One) on my iPad. It took me a couple of months for my thoughts to flow as smoothly typing as they had previously with my handwriting. What I love about digital journaling is that I can search for anything within the last 10 years that I have journaled about in an instant.

It is password protected.

I am often asked how long I journal; well, how long does it take you to eat? I usually eat at consistent times but spend radically different amounts of time eating because of what I am eating. In the same way, I start my day journaling at the same time, but I may add things throughout the day. This is another reason I like having it on my iPad, which is usually with me. Sometimes I journal very quickly, like under five minutes.  At other times I may spend an hour because I have the need and the time available.

As I mentioned last week in my TT, the biggest hurdle for me to overcome was writing for posterity. I finally had to come to grips with this if I was going to be brutally honest in my journal. That is why I told Mary Kay to have them burned when I die. There is some ugly stuff in my journal, but it was stuff that I needed to process and work through; writing it down helped me to do so. 

I write my TT for others, but I journal for myself.

I start out most days in the morning with the word “Yesterday,” and then I continue to write what comes into my head.  I may write things I thought from yesterday or something that happened which caused me to feel a certain way.  I do write about events, but only as these events foster thoughts or feelings which I need to process. 

Recently, I visited my father, who is almost 94 and now living in an assisted living center. I experienced him as a grumpy old man, which is something I never want to become.  I am afraid I will follow his footsteps. So I ask myself, “how do I keep from getting there, and how did he get there, and what can I do to help him out of it?” This is how and why I journal.

The Power of Journaling

I have received positive feedback from my Thursday Thoughts (TT) from the small number who receive it. Ironically, I am not writing for others as much as for myself. Writing things always organize my thoughts so I can think them through logically and then communicate them to others intelligently. As I journal, I have learned to articulate my thoughts and feelings in a semi-understandable manner. Often it starts out as run-on thoughts but then begins to separate into articulate deliberations.

In writing my TT, I am taking these thoughts another step forward and learning to communicate them TO OTHERS. This is another skill and a deeper level of vulnerability than just journaling.

Journaling has been a skill developed over the last 40 years in my life. It has taught me how to capture and identify my thoughts and feelings; then articulate them in writing. This was a challenge, but I got over the fear of others not liking or accepting my thoughts by convincing myself I was just writing for me and God, no one else. I told MK to burn them when I die for that reason. Once that fear was overcome, it was easier for me to think through my journal.

I have learned how to take what I have learned across the many individuals, books, and resources throughout my lifetime and then assimilate and integrate these learnings into my lifestyle. It became a virtuous cycle as I applied these learnings to my life. I would write about how I was growing by attempting to apply these learnings.  As a result, writing these learnings into this journal and attempting to live them across the years has kept me developing. This is the difference between wisdom and knowledge.  Wisdom is knowledge applied.

So when I would teach things, they were things that I had learned and attempted to apply, like Ezra 7.10

For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.

Ezra 7.10

Now, writing TT for others takes this learning to another level because I share these learnings with others, which involves more exposure. Prior to TT, my writing was just with myself, MK & God.

In TT, I am writing learnings that are much fresher and still incubating. People can disagree with me easily, and I need to hear them and respond thoughtfully. It seemed to require less exposure to demonstrate a truth that I have learned and applied over time than to share it AS I am learning.

But this is more of the stage I am in. In these final stages of life, I need to develop the ability to hear and process something with what I have learned and found to be true over the 68 years of life. And it is imperative for me to share this with others who may not be in the same place in their journey. They may be more brilliant than I but simply haven’t lived the years with the repository of experiences or exposure I have had.

It is intriguing as I look back at my life thus far that I have experienced so much in life and visited literally around the world, being exposed to and learned from various cultures. Few people have been exposed to so many broken bones, accidents, stitches, cultures, people, mentors, fractured relationships, failed careers or callings, books, and weird events as I. 

Lord, thanks for the varied background you have provided me.  I am still alive, and may you not waste all those experiences or exposure for your kingdom. 

Communication is a Wonderful Thing

A few weeks ago, I acted like a typical high “I” and made an on-the-spot invitation for friends to visit us during a time that MK and I had set apart for only the two of us to be alone and recover. I realized that I had acted impulsively and hoped no one would notice.  However, MK brought it up later when we were alone. It hurt her.  She told me that it bothered her, and then she was quiet for the remainder of the ride home. I noticed it and should have addressed it then. Instead, I let us ride home in silence. I apologized, but it wasn’t really heard. We talked it through the next day, and I apologized again. I think she finally heard it.

As I said, communication is a wonderful and very complex process.  It is much more than one person saying something and the other person hearing it.  Seldom is what we share exactly what we are feeling or thinking.  That is, the words that we say are rarely the same words going on in our heads.  This is because:

  1. We say what we think the other person wants to hear.
  2. We say what we feel is appropriate for the moment. 
  3. We say 90% of what we want to say and never share the whole truth. 
  4. We are concerned for the other person, so we couch our words in phrases the other can receive. 
  5. Maybe our emotions are high, and therefore, we intentionally don’t respond out of these emotions.
  6. We are insecure and struggle to admit it in the conversation.

In fact, if a person didn’t do some of these things, they would be perceived as a-social. We would see them as unable to communicate effectively.

I do this all the time. I simply don’t say what I am feeling/thinking without running it through my EQ grid. This is healthy. Just because I feel or think something doesn’t mean it is right or even that it should be shared in the moment. I think through the context and then share what I think/feel is most appropriate. But this isn’t usually verbatim with what is going on inside my head. 

The same is true for the hearer. Seldom do they hear what the speaker intends because of what is going on inside their own head.  This is because:

  1. They already think/feel one way, which influences what or how they hear the words.
  2. They are insecure, and what is shared is felt as a threat.
  3. They are not listening because they are mentally engaged elsewhere.
  4. They are thinking of what to say in response before hearing the whole message.
  5. Their prior history with this person skews what they hear from them.

Obviously, the list from both the speaker/hearer could go on much further.  It becomes apparent why communication is complex.  It isn’t a surprise that we often don’t hear what is intended.  It is a miracle that healthy communication takes place at all! 

Mark 10.35-40 tells us:

35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 37They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 38“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39“We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

Mark 10.35-40

James and John had no clue of the implications of their request. Jesus tells them such. Jesus withholds some information because he knows they couldn’t bear it at this point.  He also knows in time, they will understand and fully grasp what they ask. Their lives were given in service to their master, and they both died suffering for their Savior. 

We all withhold some things, but unlike Jesus, it is usually because we are afraid of how the person may react or how it may impact us. We are told in Ephesians to speak the truth in love. I learned to speak the truth long before I learned to speak it with love. I am still learning to hear the truth with love.

Healthy communication requires both the truth and love on both the speaker and the hearer’s part.

Anxiety in an Anxious Age

I enjoy traveling, which I frequently do. One of the things I enjoy about it is the many new people and different places to explore.  I never tire of studying people and attempting to understand the culture or environment that causes them to think or act as they do.

However, one of the downsides to traveling is that I find it easy to get out of my routines.  As I have written elsewhere, I am not a disciplined person, but I do maintain healthy habits that keep my life growing consistently.  These habits include a morning routine that starts with Mary Kay and me reading and reflecting on our lives and the day ahead.  I have a routine of exercise that keeps me in shape physically.  These routines or habits govern my life and center me in Christ. 

In traveling and serving others, I find my schedule is not always what I desire; time zones, meetings, hotels, and coffee shops don’t always allow me to keep a consistent routine.  As I have aged, I have worked harder and done better, but it is still a challenge.  When I return home, I immediately reestablish my sense of routine or healthy habits. 

As I reflect on my habits, I have come to see that they keep me well.  They are Christ-centered and therefore feed my heart, body, mind, and soul.  They are holistic and not compulsive.  They provide freedom, security, and peace. 

Yet, I find it intriguing that there is so much anxiety all around me today. I don’t think it is just a result of Covid, for it has been increasing for the last 100 years.  I also find it intriguing that it is as prevalent among followers of Christ as it is in those far from faith in Christ. I think deeply about this.

There is something in this observation that lets me know that it is not right belief that eliminates anxiety. One could argue that it is related to rightly held beliefs. As if the followers of Christ who are experiencing anxiety are simply not “really” believing. But I don’t think so; as I look at followers of Christ, I know. It seems that it is impacted by faith for sure, but it is also impacted by their emotional state.  This can be circular, meaning that each of these can impact the other. 

It seems to me that one’s emotional state is informed by their faith, but not necessarily determined by it. I have never been one to worry, before Christ or since. So to say my faith has kept me from worrying is a bit naive. Surely as I have aged and matured in my faith in God’s providence has solidified into a belief structure that continues to keep me free from anxiety. But not being prone to worry prior to faith in Christ seems to be a better predictor of one’s anxiety than simply faith in Christ.

So what is the origin of anxiety? It seems to me that most who struggle with anxiety lack a solid nurturing, emotionally connected, and life-giving relationship with one or both parents. It seems that anxiety isn’t always a natural consequence of this, but the lack of this early emotionally connecting environment provides a clear breeding ground from which anxiety can develop in childhood and beyond.

As I have watched people over a lifetime, I find it interesting that the anxiety often didn’t surface as children but did later in life.  I think this has to do with kids’ emotional energy, which can mask anxiety well into their late twenties.  It is only then their emotional energy seems to dissipate, and anxiety surface. 

Indeed there are many other factors that can increase anxiety, such as PTSD, trauma, and chronic stress.  However, these factors often find root in the fertile soil of a lack of emotional nurturing, a sense of abandonment, and a lack of attunement as a young developing child. 

I know I have only touched the surface of this subject and have much more and deeper things to process.  But I am reminded that Paul tells the Philippians in the letter he wrote to them (4.4-9):

4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

Paul is telling them and us to keep our hearts, minds, memories, and souls focused on the one with eternity in his hands.  I don’t see him condemning anxiety here, simply stating that it has trouble growing in soil that is continually being renewed by what is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  It isn’t just a head exercise but rather is a relational one.  Notice Paul says that these are the things they saw in their relationship with him…there was and continued to be a relationship with Paul in this context. 

We live in an anxious society, culture, and pace which is fueled by poor emotional foundations and unhealthy relationships.  Let’s keep processing how healthy Christ-centered habits and solid emotional foundations can allow us to experience the peace deep in our souls that only God can produce.

Living in Light of Eternity

I have had several accidents which easily could have killed me. When I was ten years old, I was hit by a car that the driver admitted was going 60 mph. I ran right out in front of him; he didn’t have a chance to avoid me on that gravel road. Yes, I was severely injured and lost some teeth (my head hit the hood of the car), but I survived. Then, when I was 41, I was run over by a car that I tried to jump into while it was in motion.  Either of these events could have easily killed me; both were entirely my fault and my stupidity. 

I felt immortal when young. But the second time, while in shock riding to the hospital in the ambulance, the truth slowly seeped into my deep senses… ”I could have died.”  It was then, for the first time, that I realized I was mortal. My mother died shortly after that following a battle with cancer, and this truth was affirmed in my soul…”I am mortal. I, too, will die.”

I think it was then I began to prepare for my own death. I accepted the fact that life would go on without me. Although my family would miss me like I still miss my mother, everyone would go on with their lives. I began to ask myself what I wanted to accomplish with my life before I died and began to pursue these goals. I continue to soberly ask this of myself.

As a follower of Christ, if there is one thing I know, it is that we are all going to die.  But to die physically means to live ultimately. It is what Paul writes to some friends in Philippi,

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”

Philippians 1.21-24

Then he writes to the church in Rome,

“If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

Romans 14.8

If anyone lived their life in light of eternity, certainly Paul did.

Atul Gawande is a surgeon who struggles with mortality, like most doctors and patients. His excellent book, Being Mortal, describes doctors’ struggles in helping their patients embrace their mortality. We are all going to die. As followers of Christ, we surely know this. And we have the confidence that this is not the end, so we can, as Paul, “face it with a grin.”

Why do so many people take such extreme measures to extend life when as Christians we are going to a better place? Gawande does an excellent job of helping individuals prepare for their own or another’s death. Gawande is not a Christian, but he highlights why doctors refuse to talk about a patient’s impending death and why patients don’t want their doctors to do so. It is like some unspoken covenant between the doctor and the patient.

He eventually became a proponent of palliative care which allows for quality and quantity of life, according to research from several studies. And it does so with a much more informed, intentional, and inexpensive approach to our mortality.

Gawande identifies four crucial questions to ask yourself and others close to you in life and as you face life-altering circumstances, like aging, an accident, or a life-threatening disease:

  • What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes?
  • What are your fears and what are your hopes?
  • What tradeoffs are you willing to make or not willing to make?
  • What is the course of action that best serves this understanding?

My father is almost 94 and my mother died at 68. I will be 68 this month. I may die soon or live another 30 years; this is in God’s hands. I will serve His desires daily regardless of how long I have to live. These questions have enlightened how I want to interact with those closest to me while yet on this earth.

Wisdom and the Fray

As often the case, today’s Thursday Thoughts come out of my journaling.

Aging and growing in my faith have caused me to see wisdom much differently. I have learned that wisdom is most often shown by not entering a fray early. That is unless I feel there is something I can offer that no one else can offer at the outset. But this is very rare! Most of the time, I sense the Lord saying, “wait, let others express themselves and watch what happens. See what I can do without you!”

Earlier in my life, I felt it was my responsibility to straighten out every faulty point or thinking. This is the tendency Dave Bangle pointed out after our first board meeting at Pawnee; he called me a bulldog who shakes the air out of every toy. Now I know that a great deal of a person’s sense of contribution hinges on sharing their perspective and having it heard.  

For most people, everyone doesn’t have to agree with it. However, leaders sense the need to contribute, so they feel the need to talk. When they do, it is like they have exhaled a deep breath; there is a great sense of relief. Just as exhaling breath allows us to take in a fresh breath of air, once people have shared something and feel like it has been heard, they are more open to hearing what others have to say. Or, as my metaphor allows, for them to take in a fresh breath of air.

So now, I allow the discussion to go much longer without me. I eventually do enter in and express my perspective, but not necessarily addressing point by point made by others with which I may agree or disagree. Surely, I am not afraid to address a point made by another if asked. But most of the time, people really don’t care what I think about specific points in their argument if they feel heard.

I think my wisdom is much more respected today than it was thirty years ago. Yes, this is partially because of my age, experience, reading, and knowledge gained through these. However, some of it is surely my hesitation to enter the fray early and let others feel free to express their own perspectives and be heard before I engage from my own perspective.

Processing Emotions

Obviously, in my blogs about Open the Window, I wrote a lot about the importance of processing emotions when events that initiate them occur. I talked of the importance of agency and recovery in allowing our emotions to be dealt with in a way that diffuses them from taking our thinking brain hostage later in life. It is often the difference between agency and recovery that keeps events from becoming trauma in one’s life.  

But what if you were not allowed or didn’t understand how to process emotions in their family of origin? In this case, you find emotions often haunt you years or decades after the precipitating event. In fact, that is one of the measures of a traumatic memory; it continues to surface with the exact impact and force as it did in the original moment. These memory capsules don’t fade with time and continue taking our thinking brain hostage when resurfacing.  

A friend recently asked me what the difference was between feeling an emotion and processing an emotion. In other words, how do you know that you are really processing an emotion rather than just feeling it as you did in the original moment? 

Let me suggest how I have come to understand this these past four decades. It began with the book, Healing for Damaged Emotions by David Seamands. Almost forty-two years ago, David, a pastor with great insight into the human mind, wrote of the need for believers to relive painful memories in a way that Christ could be present and bring healing to these memories. From research on how the mind works, we now understand much more clearly what is happening in his method. 

Let me suggest the beginning point of processing one’s emotions is with feeling that emotion and being aware of its presence in one’s life. It clearly doesn’t stop there, but it does begin there. Often people get trapped in a vicious cycle of feeling/experiencing emotions and live in them while thinking this is effectively processing the emotions…this is not so.  

The key to not allowing this vicious cycle to take control of the thinking brain, one must ground themselves as soon as one realizes the emotions are being experienced.  Grounding involves finding a secure place where you KNOW you are secure and can keep the fight, flight, or freeze hormones from raging. This can involve recalling scriptures committed to memory (like Psalm 23 or Colossians 3.1-17) and sitting in a very secure manner and place.  

Once our thinking brain is operating, we must seek to understand the origin of these emotions and identify the triggers from our past that are being pulled. At times, we may feel emotions with no connection to the memories which initially fostered these feelings. We may need others (professional or not) to help us know what memory capsules are being released and why. This involves deep investigative work, often with another. I believe the Spirit can give us great insights here. 

Processing the emotions then involves agency* and recovery (to borrow Elizabeth Stanley’s terms). It is asking ourselves what agency do we have in the present as well as what agency did we have in the past. In the case of trauma, abuse, or other stressors, we may not have had any in the past, but we can go back and ask, “what would we have liked to do had we had agency.”  This is where role-playing helps. We can ask ourselves, ”Where was God in all of this?” This was the point of Seamands’ book.

This processing allows us to inform these emotions and events by the truths we know. I believe this is where truths about us and life found in Scripture come in. These truths inform and renew those emotive memories with a perspective that transforms them.  It doesn’t become just cognitive; this is where the cognitive work comes in.

Here is an illustration of this from my life these past five years. Somewhere in the last five years, I woke up after very lucid dreams feeling lonely and abandoned. I remember journaling about this. These dreams and feelings continued for several weeks until I realized that I did struggle with abandonment. I resisted this thought because I had a great relationship with my mom. However, I believe this was God’s gentle push to deal with this issue in my life. I spent time to identify the events which led to this. Eventually, as I identified all events in my life which were traumatic I became aware of a number of dating situations where girls dumped me publicly and humiliating me before others.  

As I continued to process this, I realized how so many of my actions today were influenced by this fear of abandonment. It was one of the reasons I lacked self-differentiation. For me, it wasn’t just realizing what was at the root of this feeling that helped, but help came as I realized what agency did I have in those situations.  That is when the truth came through: I set myself up for abandonment through the way I approached dating.  

I actually chose girls who were real eye-candy. In other words, I intentionally chose girls who would add to my self-concept by their beauty. I, therefore, felt I needed to be the best looking, acting, smartest…guy to keep them. And I sought to be such. I was always trying to prove my “greatness” to them. And in each case, they found another guy who was better looking, acting, or more popular to dump me for. So, by the very nature of the rules I set up for the girls, I would date, I was asking for abandonment.

There was not the healthy concept being loved for who I was, warts and all. So, if I ever did let my guard down, it gave them a reason to move on. My sense of agency was used to create the perfect storm where I would be abandoned. Wow.

I fully realize many of you reading this may say you had no agency in the trauma, and you may be correct. Initially, I didn’t think I did either. In those situations where you had none, this is where having a professional experience this with you and giving you agency to say or do what was needed can be of great help.

As I dwelt on this through the Spirit’s perspective and the Scriptures’ truths, I felt released from the need to be the best…and the fear of abandonment. It was like I was let out of prison. I now continue to live in this truth. I know if I fell back into being the best basis for love, I would consequently experience the fear of abandonment.  

And to think I am in my 60’s wrestling through this. 


*Agency begins with what you let into your mind—meaning what comes in from your environment. If you are lacking agency, it’s likely your attention is being hijacked and you need to figure out how to restore it. Source: https://www.mindful.org/seven-ways-to-develop-personal-agency/

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